I was enjoying a quiet weekend when my news feed started to pop up with stories such as Elon Musk warns us that human-level AI is ‘potentially more dangerous than nukes’ and Elon Musk: AI could be more dangerous than nukes. Wow! Now usually I am a huge fan of Mr. Musk, his approach to innovation, and many of the amazing things he and his teams have accomplished at Tesla and SpaceX for example. But I have to say that I strongly disagree with Mr. Musk about the dangers of AI. First and foremost, AI is not now nor will it ever be “more dangerous than nukes”. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, restricting AI research is in itself dangerous. Let me explain.
What Exactly Did Musk Say?
This series of articles was all generated by a couple of tweets posted by Musk to his Twitter account. I’ve included them below.
Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence. Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable — Elon Musk (@elonmusk)
He’s a bit vague here, unsurprising given that we are talking about just a few tweets, but let’s examine the details.
How Dangerous Are “Nukes” Anyway?
Mr. Musk’s exact statement was that AI is “Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” But just how dangerous are nuclear weapons anyway? Simply stated, nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous and constitute an existential threat to humanity and all life forms on Earth. So to be “more dangerous” than nukes, AI has to be really really dangerous. Only two nuclear weapons have been used in warfare and together they killed around 250, 000 people and destroyed two cities. However the testing and manufacture of early nuclear devices was itself dangerous and entire populations were exposed to radiation. Many of the scientists working with early devices and materials were also exposed to radiation. The total number of deaths from radiation exposure resulting from testing and manufacture of nuclear devices is unclear, but an estimate of 20, 000 people worldwide dying from cancer as a result of nuclear testing wouldn’t be unreasonable and might be quite low. Current nuclear arsenals however number in the thousands of warheads and the devices are also more powerful and destructive than the first devices.
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